If you haven't heard the benefits of prenatal yoga already - it can improve sleep, reduce stress and anxiety, and increase strength and endurance of muscles needed for birth. Prenatal yoga can also decrease lower back pain, nausea, headaches, and shortness of breath. All great things!
A gap can exist between knowing the benefits and knowing how to practice prenatal yoga safely and effectively. What is different about prenatal and "regular" yoga? We chatted with Julia Sinha (@lunaflorayoga), a certified yoga instructor who has taken prenatal yoga trainings. Although she is not officially certified in prenatal yoga and does not teach it specifically, we thought these tips would be really helpful to consider before you hit the mat!
Note 1: Like any form of movement while pregnant, you should check in with your doctor before practicing to make sure it is appropriate for you.
Note 2: While there is some debate among yoga teachers on exactly how and when to modify, the below are some recommended guidelines to consider for modifying your practice while pregnant, always keeping in mind that listening to your body is the ultimate # 1 teacher:
- Take a prenatal yoga class. If you have a regular practice, you can continue to take the classes you love with some knowledge of modifications (and of course, always listening to your body and backing off if you feel any discomfort) but I highly recommend taking a prenatal class at least once so you can learn how to modify as your pregnancy progresses and body changes. If you are new to the practice, check out a prenatal class specifically.
- Do not consider this the time to try new challenges. Wherever you are in your practice, note that pregnancy and the 'fourth' trimester are not a time to increase your levels of activity and challenge your body with new levels of effort. Yoga can be vigorous but as your body is already doing SO MUCH every day just in growing and caring for your baby - consider turning to a gentler, slower version of yoga for this phase of life.
- Try using props and bolsters. If you practice at home, try blocks and maybe a bolster (or a pillow and blanket will work) – they will help you create more space as your belly grows and support you in transitions.
- Widen your stance. As your belly grows, start to widen your stance in standing poses to give you a better foundation and more room– for example in standing forward fold, stepping your feet out wide and bending your knees while folding forward will create more room for your torso and belly. A wider stance in things like lunges or Warrior I will give you better balance and stability.
- Be gentle with any twists you take. Some yoga teachers will say to leave them out completely while pregnant so if you want to err on the side of caution, skip them. Other teachers will continue to offer them (especially in the first and second trimester) as long as they are gentle and you are sitting upright, not compressing your belly/the front of your body (for example, a seated upright gentle twist allows you to keep the front of your body open while your spine twists a little bit vs something like a chair twist which would have you compressed and rounded/bent forward).
- Avoid lying flat on belly and back. Around the end of your first trimester you will want to stop taking poses that have you lay flat on your belly (for things like baby cobra) or feel free to leave these out the entire pregnancy. As your belly grows, you’ll want to stop lying flat on your back so as not to put pressure on the vena cava. Instead you can take things like savasana in a fetal position on the left side (putting a pillow below your head and a block between your knees here can feel really nice)
- Avoid deep back bends. As you get into the second trimester, I would start to leave any deep back bends out (wheel, up dog, etc.). This depends on you and your body and your level of comfort, but they can exacerbate ab separation (diastasis recti).
- Have a wall close-by. As your balance starts to change as your pregnancy progresses, if you continue to try standing balancing poses, do them near a wall with fingertips on the wall or near it so you can catch yourself if you wobble.
- Take it easy on stretches. It is not advisable to push far into your joints during pregnancy and right after giving birth. This is a good time to back off of taking poses to their edge and focus on building muscle strength versus putting extra pressure on your joints (especially as relaxin will make your joints feel more open but this doesn’t mean you should be abusing that!).
- Listen to any pains. As is always the case with yoga and especially while pregnant, if you feel pain in any joints, back off, stop practicing, and consult a doctor and/or physical therapist. Pregnancy is not a time to push through discomfort. While yoga can be challenging mentally and physically, it should not be uncomfortable or painful.
There you go!
If you relax into the practice and tune into your body and intuition, respecting what your body is telling you and asking for through this time of great change, yoga can be a great support system for your wellbeing!
Cheering you on,
The DARITY team